US SPECIAL ENVOY Amos Hochstein speaks at a news conference in Beirut, last week.© (photo credit: MOHAMED AZAKIR/REUTERS)

Reading and listening to American media, you might think that it’s up to Hezbollah to decide whether to fight Israel in an all-out war in Lebanon or attack Cyprus, if Cyprus supports Israel.

BBC reports, “Israel and Hezbollah play with fire, but neither wants another war.” Reuters says, “Hezbollah is drawing on more of its arsenal in its conflict with Israel even as it declares no interest in a full-scale war.”

The New York Times writes that “the armed group [Hezbollah] would punish the small island nation [Cyprus] if it allowed Israel to use its airports and bases to target Lebanon.”

Hezbollah may or may not want a war with Israel or to attack Cyprus, but it is actually not their choice to make. Hezbollah can lobby the actual decision-maker to avoid the devastation Lebanon received from Israel 18 years ago during the Second Lebanon War, but it cannot independently choose not to have a full-scale conflagration.

These decisions will actually be made following the law of “guardianship of the jurist,” practiced by the Twelver Shi’ites of Lebanon, i.e., Hezbollah, which means following the orders of the Supreme Leader of Iran. Hezbollah is best viewed as a branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

As I read through many articles, listen to podcasts, and watch news shows talking about the tinderbox of the Israel-Hezbollah conflict, almost none of them mention Iran as the decisive factor in whether Hezbollah targets Israel’s Knesset in Jerusalem or the nuclear plant in Dimona or Israel turns Hezbollah-controlled Beirut into Gaza.

If my fellow journalists more accurately called the Israeli-Lebanese-Syrian border the Iranian northern border, they would reimagine the region as it is. They would realize that Iran not only controls their most powerful proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon but also Shi’ite militias in Syria and Iraq, who would join a regional war against Israel. 

They would quickly conclude that focusing solely on the words of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah would only reveal a part of the greater picture, as major strategic issues that affect Iran and its shared goal to eliminate Israel are decided in Tehran.

The most likely reason Iran does not want a full-scale war at this point is that it wants to preserve Hezbollah’s massive 200,000 accumulation of missiles, rockets, drones, anti-tank weapons, and mortars as a sword of Damocles hanging over Israel’s head, a deterrence against an Israeli preemptive strike on the nuclear weapons infrastructure in Iran.

It is not only journalists and their readers who are misled but also the American government who recently sent their envoy Amos Hochstein to meet with the impotent Lebanese government to negotiate a cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah. 

They seem oblivious to the fact that the only reason the Israeli-Lebanese negotiations over the Mediterranean maritime natural gas rights facilitated by Hochstein were concluded was because Hezbollah, with the blessing of Iran, sanctified the agreement.

The administration’s marketing of the agreement said that since Lebanon and Israel now shared economic interests, this would decrease the chance of a war between Israel and Lebanon’s de facto power, Hezbollah. How well has that worked out? The Biden administration still thinks the best path for de-escalation is dealing with the Lebanese government as the mediator.

Pretending Lebanon is anything but a failed state misleads the American public, who are asked to spend hundreds of millions of dollars over the years to support the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), which are either powerless or in bed with Hezbollah.

The more direct route is to put Hochstein on a plane for Tehran and stop pretending that the failed government of Lebanon has any influence on determining whether war erupts.

They are simply conduits to Iran’s Hezbollah, which dominates Lebanese politics and directly communicates with the Iranian Republican Guards Corps, the henchman of the supreme leader. The IRGC funds, trains, and directs the forces on Israel’s northern border.

At the very least, the administration should send Hochstein to Oman or Qatar, where the president’s minions engaged in secret negotiations with Iran behind the backs of Congress. I heard that from the Omanis and Qataris during my visits last year.

In the category of utter cluelessness and incompetence, we have the UN. The Jerusalem Post reported, “United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said UN peacekeepers are working to calm the situation and prevent miscalculation.” His UNIFIL forces, on the scene since 2006, have stopped zero – not one – of the thousands of missiles transited from Iran to Lebanon.

Now boarding, connecting flight for Mr. Hochstein from Beirut to Tehran.

This article appeared in The Jerusalem Post on June 28, 2024.

The writer is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political Information Network) and Mandel Strategies, a consulting firm for business and government officials in the Middle East. He regularly briefs members of Congress and their foreign policy aides. He is the senior security editor for The Jerusalem Report and a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post.

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